Research reveals how Hungarians see Putin and other world leaders

June 11. 2022. – 07:17 AM


Research reveals how Hungarians see Putin and other world leaders
Photo: Mikhail Metzel / Pool / Sputnik via AFP


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The majority of Hungarians don't want to get closer to Russia, the desire for belonging to the West is still much stronger in the country. Putin’s popularity has declined in the last 5 years. Závecz Research conducted a survey at the request of Telex at the end of May. The research looked at topics about which data was available in 2017 as well, which makes it possible to compare how much the situation has changed in the last few years.

“Generally speaking, the Hungarians’ lack of trust towards anything international has increased, but since the perception of Russia and its president Vladimir Putin has worsened, the West is looking better in this contrast right now, due to the increase of its relative appeal” – this is how the head of Political Capital evaluated the result of the opinion poll. Péter Krekó said that the Hungarian public’s opinion regarding Russia is in sync with international trends, which shows that

“In spite of everything, the war still has an interpretation which says that we shouldn’t trust someone who invades their next door neighbour”.

The data was collected by Závecz Research at the request of Telex between 20-23 May 2022, with 1000 respondents. Together, the respondents represent the adult population of the country by age, gender, education and type of settlement where they live. For random samples of this size, the margin of error is ± 3.2 percentage points for the basic distribution of all respondents, and higher in case of smaller subsamples. The data from 2017 is from a data collection conducted by Závecz Research in March 2017 with the same methodology.

Five years ago the Hungarian population was divided about whether Hungary should get closer to Russia, or keep the distance from it, but the general mood was that of mild friendliness. According to the representative public opinion poll prepared by Závecz Research in March 2017, almost half (48%) of the respondents were in favour of a closer relationship, but the number of those rejecting this was also high (41%). Whether this friendly mood had increased or decreased in the last few years prior to Russia’s attack on Ukraine in February cannot be determined from the available data. Other research, however suggests that it had not decreased.

In any case, it is quite clear that due to the war which has been going on for three months in the country right next to us, the desire for being friendly with Russia has significantly dwindled: only a third (33%) of the population thinks this is a good idea.

At the same time, this does not mean that the Hungarians’ desire for turning away from Russia has increased – what is quite clearly seen instead is that the level of indecisiveness has grown. This time around, 45 percent of the respondents were in favour of increasing the distance with Russia, while 22 percent claimed they were unable to form an opinion.

Hungarian society is strongly polarized about this matter based on party sympathy: while 83% of opposition voters would prefer to remain distanced from Russia, this number is a mere 27% among respondents with pro-government sympathies. Fidesz voters are much more Russia-friendly than the average. Most of them (45 percent) would still prefer getting closer to Russia, while quite a high percentage (28%) is unsure about the issue.

The fact that the government which had previously announced the “opening towards the East”, and has been doing much business with Russia, as well as the fact that Viktor Orbán who has been regularly meeting with Putin won another two-thirds victory again on 3 April does not mean that the majority of Hungarians is siding with the Russian aggressor.

Even if all Fidesz voters sympathized with the country lead by Putin, it would still be only 35% of Hungarian society, but as we have previously remarked, it is clear that even the pro-government camp is not unanimously pro-Russia. This comes as no surprise, given that “when it comes to the war, neither Fidesz, nor the pro-government media have been communicating that we should openly support Russia. Instead, the message has been that we should be shrewd because everyone is lying” – the director of Political Capital explained.

The perception of both Russia and Putin has worsened

According to Krekó, the results of Závecz’ fresh opinion poll show that “the foreign policy vector of Hungarian society continues to point more towards the West” – in spite of the fact that when considering the tendencies in this topic, we see that support for Germany, the USA and the EU is somewhat lower than before. Agreement is highest regarding the desire that we should stick together with the countries around us:

Just like in 2017, the vast majority of Hungarians would like to be on good terms with Central-European, V4 countries.

Krekó said that if we compare the results of this latest Závecz-poll with the results of the one from five years ago, they reflect the government’s foreign policy regarding every single question: the already high level of openness towards Central-European and V4 countries has only increased, while the image of America has worsened. The rejection of Turkey has decreased considerably, and support for Israel has significantly increased.

Compared to the data from five years ago, Vladimir Putin’s popularity has plunged deeper than support for Russia. While 31 percent of Hungarians sympathized with him in 2017, this May only 17 percent found him likable.

The latest opinion poll showed that on a scale of 100 points, sympathy for Putin has dropped from 47 to 32.

When considering party sympathies, the strong polarization of Hungarian society becomes very clear once again. Among the voters of the united opposition parties which ran together at the 2022 election, Putin is by far the least popular (having received only 6 out of 100 points), but Fidesz voters (44 points) and those without party affiliation (29 points) don’t find him too likable either. Only those of the Mi Hazánk camp (53 points) find him mildly likable.

To make the data comparable, the poll asked about the same foreign politicians, leaders and familiar faces as five years ago. Although, as several of the politicians have left office since then or their mandate has expired, it is not worth drawing far-reaching conclusions from the fact that the Russian president has slipped to the bottom of this list. What is interesting, however, is that

Pope Francis, who was incredibly popular in our country five years ago as well, is now even more popular than before.

The rise in the popularity of the head of the Catholic Church is mainly due to the opposition, as pro-government voters didn't like him much five years ago either.

What are Hungarians afraid of?

The decline in Putin's popularity is probably related to the fact that this year, Hungarians perceive Russian leaders as much more threatening. Based on the answers given to the question: “How much do the people listed below threaten Hungary’s future?” it can be stated that Russian leaders are seen more dangerous than 5 years ago – by 17 points. There is no other potential threat on the list, first surveyed in 2017, whose threat level has increased by a similar magnitude in the eyes of Hungarians.

Different party sympathies also play a decisive role here: opposition voters are the most worried about Russian leaders (on a scale of 100, where 100 is the most dangerous, they received 84 points), while both unaffiliated voters (76 points) and Fidesz fans (53 points) consider Putin and his team dangerous, those who prefer Mi Hazánk’s view of the world lean towards thinking that the Russian leaders are not dangerous (48 points).

The opinion poll also revealed that Hungarians still consider corrupt politicians and terrorists as the biggest threat to their country.

The number of those worried about Jews, Muslims, migrants and gypsies has decreased as well. Krekó explained that previous research has shown that an increase in being anti-Muslim and an increase in anti-semitism tend to go hand in hand. He added that in his opinion the evolution of Hungarian public opinion in this area may be linked to the fact that "vocal hate speech against an ethnic group is currently not part of mainstream politics".

At the same time, it is also important to note that the number of those who see xenophobia as a threat has increased significantly. In addition, the majority of Hungarians now fear xenophobia regardless of party sympathies: on a 100-point threat scale, it scored above 70 points among Fidesz voters, voters of the united opposition and those without a party, and even among supporters of Mi Hazánk it scored 66 points.

Another noteworthy point is that the Orbán government is now considered by the Hungarian public to be significantly less of a threat than five years ago. Not surprisingly, however, depending on party preference, there are significant differences in how people view this question.

While the voters of the united opposition consider the government a threat worth 82 points on a scale of 100, those without party preference (45 points) and the camp of Mi Hazánk (41 points) do not really worry about the government being a threat to the country, not to mention the Fidesz voters (11 points) who basically deem them no threat at all.

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The translation of this article was made possible by our cooperation with the Heinrich Böll Foundation.